For 25 years, Jonathan Davis
has been the beloved and enigmatic frontman of the avant-garde titans Korn.
Standing behind his iconic, H.R. Giger-designed mic stand with bagpipes in-hand
and kilt on-waist, his unique ability to fuse the scatting swagger of funk with
the embittered grit of hard rock quickly made both him and his band
irreplaceable cornerstones of the nu metal movement.
But when you’re an artist as
provably eclectic and unpredictable as the man formerly known as “JDevil”, one
aural venture will never be enough to satisfy the constant creativity bubbling
away inside. As a result, after more than fifteen years of releasing
on-again-off-again material under his own name, the singer has finally unleashed a full-length solo
album upon an unsuspecting world.
Black Labyrinth hit shelves on the 25th
May, quickly educating the uninitiated about just how unrestrained Jonathan
Davis could truly be when the shackles of constant, stomping nu metal are removed.
Tonally, the disc is as experimental as they come, taking just as much from
world music and new-wave as it does from blistering heavy metal.
To talk all about Black Labyrinth and his life within Korn, Jonathan and I share a chat during a warm spring morning:
M.M.: Your debut album just came out this month, but it’s been fifteen
years since you first went solo, working on the Queen of the Damned film soundtrack.
J.D.: “Yeah, that was my first
thing: me just f*cking around, doing sh*t by myself. That’s what kinda spawned
What was it about working on that soundtrack that made you think “Yeah,
I should keep going solo and do this more often”?
“I had so much fun f*cking
around with different instruments. With Korn I had a set of drums, a bass
guitar, two guitars and singing. But this had an open palette! All these
different instruments that I could experiment with and all this cool sh*t, it
just opened my eyes and inspired me to explore.”
And this would have been during the heyday of Korn, so what was it
like escaping that bubble?
“It was awesome!”
Was there maybe any anxiety from you in trying something so
“Writing music saved me from
anxiety. It was the only time that I was sane and I could focus on something
that wasn’t freaking [me] the f*ck out. That time was Korn’s heyday, but I’d
been sober for two or three years by that time, so this is what kept me going. Doing
the Korn thing was great and I loved it, but this was something so different
that it was good for my soul. It was really, really exciting. You know the
feeling: it’s like the first time you go out with a chick. Haha!”
So, with over fifteen years of on-off solo work under your belt, why
was 2018 the right time for Black
“I started in ‘07 and I was on
a major label. I was working with their president, and then all of a sudden he
bailed. At the time he really wanted to produce the record, because I was just
writing, but our producer ended up becoming the president of the company and he
didn’t have time, so I’m sitting there like ‘What am I gonna f*cking do?!’ They
go ‘Here’s your record back,’ so, after going through all that sh*t, by that
time Korn were done with their break and it was time for me to tour again. It took
this long for me to put it out and do something. I know it sounds crazy, but
that’s how we tour. I’ve been waiting for ten years!”
That sounds frustrating.
“It was maddening. I’ve played
it in my dressing room and for friends when they come over, and they’ll go ‘Why
the f*ck are you waiting?’ But different managers wanted to keep the Korn train
rolling. That’s how they make their money. At one time I released three songs
on Soundcloud just to leak it, haha! But I had to take them down. It was very
disheartening, I was bummed. I’d done tons: for this record I’d done 26 songs,
thirteen are actually on the record. I’ve got a whole other record! Haha!”
Will those remaining songs ever see the light of day?
“When I have time, I’ll work
on them. I’m gonna keep going: I love doing Korn and I love doing this, and I think
both can live harmoniously because they are so different.”
So a second solo album won’t take another ten years then?
“No man, I’ll have another one
out in a couple years, more or less. Now I’ve got it out, I’m ready to go! When
Korn starts going out next year, I’m gonna start writing, then I’ll come back
and record it for real.”
Your solo band is playing at Download next month. How different is a
Jonathan Davis live show compared to a Korn live show?
“I have an amazing live band
with different musicians [than Korn]; they’re badass! We just come in, the band
and me, and we do our thing. There’s barely any production: when I did this
tour in the States it was just me covered in red light. It was dope as f*ck, I love
it! Simple, but that’s the gist of the whole project.”
You use a lot of different instruments on the album: bongos, lutes,
sitars, etc. Will they all appear onstage too?
“No, maybe next time when we
get more money. Haha! The majority of it is live, but the instruments I can’t
pull off live, those will have to be on-tape. But it really transfers well, it’s
And speaking of playing live, Korn is touring to commemorate the
twentieth anniversary of Follow the Leader
later this year. When you look back at that record, what are the first memories
that come to mind?
“Oh God, excess, bro. That
record turned me sober, we were just out of our f*cking minds. I think we spent
forty grand on booze, just on that record. It was just out of f*cking control!
First thing I think about that record is it’s just everything a rock star could
ever be. It was the pinnacle of all that f*cking sh*t, and we had no idea we
were making a record that would change everything so drastically and put us in
arenas. We had no f*cking clue: we were just partying and having fun.”
And, to wrap up, the word in the grapevine is that a new Korn
album’s in the works. What’s the progress like with that?
“[Guitarists] ‘Head’ and ‘Munky’
have been writing with a couple different producers, working on riffs and
putting them down, cataloguing everything. We’re gonna get together as a band
in July and start putting their ideas together in the studio and start working
on it. So, yeah, it’s in the future, definitely. When I get back after this European
run I start writing vocals for the stuff that they’ve done. We’re gonna keep
working through the year, so hopefully we’ll have one out, probably, this time
Black Labyrinth is out now via Sumerian Records.
Jonathan will play the Zippo Encore Stage of Download Festival on Friday, 8th June.